A two-hour boat ride southeast of Boca Manu on Río Madre de Dios takes you to Manu Wildlife Center. This is a lodge owned by Manu Expeditions and co-run by InkaNatura Travel, among others, either of which take reservations. There are 22 screened double cabins with hot showers, a dining room and a bar-hammock room, and the lodge is set in tropical gardens.
The lodge is not in the Parque Nacional Manu zona reservada, but is recommended for its exceptional wildlife-watching opportunities.
There are 48km of trails around the wildlife center, where 12 species of monkey, as well as other wildlife, can be seen. Two canopy platforms are a short walk away, and one is always available for guests wishing to view the top of the rainforest and look for birds that frequent the canopy.
A 3km walk through the forest brings you to a natural salt lick, where there is a raised platform with mosquito nets for viewing the nightly activities of the tapirs. This hike is for visitors who can negotiate forest trails by flashlight. Chances to see animals are excellent if you have the patience, although visitors may wait for hours. Note that there isn’t much happening at the lick during the day.
A short boat ride along the Madre de Dios brings visitors to another well-known salt lick that attracts various species of parrot and macaw. Most mornings you can see flocks in the hundreds. The largest flocks are seen from late July to September. As the rainy season kicks in, the numbers diminish and in June birds don’t visit the salt lick at all. May and early July aren’t reliable either, though ornithologists report the presence of the birds in other nearby areas during these months, which birders can usually spot.
The macaw lick is visited on a floating catamaran blind, with the blind providing a concealed enclosure from which 20 people can view the wildlife. The catamaran is stable enough to allow the use of a tripod and scope or a telephoto lens, and gets about halfway across the river. Boat drivers won’t bring the blind too close to avoid disturbing the birds. In addition to the trails and salt licks, there are a couple of nearby lakes accessible by catamaran where giant otters may be seen (as well as other wildlife). If you wish to see the macaw and tapir lick, the lakes and the canopy, and hike the trails in search of wildlife, you should plan on a three-night stay at the Manu Wildlife Center. Shorter and longer stays are workable.
Note that some tours start with a flight into Puerto Maldonado and travel up the Río Madre de Dios to reach Manu Wildlife Center from there. This is a great opportunity to explore a little-plied section of this majestic river. Other options can also include one to two nights camping within the park itself in addition to a stay at the Manu Wildlife Center, and in any case at least one night of any tour will be spent at another lodge en route because of the distances involved.